It comes as no surprise that the demand for N-95 masks have dramatically increased in recent times. But, what exactly are these masks, and what makes them so different? 

What Is an N-95 Mask?

An N-95 mask is a half-mask respirator that covers your nose and mouth, and contains an adjustable metal piece at the bridge of your nose. The purpose of this mask is to filter out dust, debris and other particles, as well as protect you from various microbial contaminants, including the flu virus, tuberculosis, and even, COVID-19.

How Do N-95 Masks Differ From Other Masks?

N-95 masks are different from masks that the public wears on a daily basis. These masks may be required for some work establishments, including health care, but anyone can obtain an N-95 mask, if and when they are available. 

The specific function of an N-95 mask can be found in its name. The “N” stands for its inability to resist oil. This is important because, in some industries where oil is present, if oil comes into contact with the mask, its effectiveness may be reduced. 

There are other types of masks that are more resistant to oil than the N-95, but these masks will be preceded with letters “R” or “P”, instead of “N”. 

The numerical aspect of the N-95 mask refers to the mask’s level of filtration. In this case, the N-95 mask can filter 95% of the particles it comes in contact with. This does not mean, however, that the mask can serve any function. On the contrary, N-95 masks aren’t recommended for filtering harmful chemicals in the form of vapors of gasses. 

What Are the Different Types of N-95 Masks?

N-95 masks have a few options available that may make one different from another. For example, some N-95 masks are soft and flexible, while others are solid and more rigid. 

Some N-95 masks may also come with exhalation valves and others may not. It is important to note that while N-95 masks may vary, all N-95 masks will function the same in terms of protection. Nevertheless, if the person wearing the mask is performing a sterile task, such as an invasive operational procedure, he or she should not wear an N-95 mask with an exhalation valve, as his or her exhaled breath is likely to contaminate the sterile environment. 

Are N-95 Masks Ever Required?

There are some employers in certain fields in which N-95 masks are required. When this is the case, employers must follow strict guidelines to ensure the proper fit and function of the mask for his or her employees. 

Additionally, if an employee desires to wear an N-95 mask on the job on his or her own initiative, he or she may do so, but only at the discretion of the employer. The employer must ensure that the mask will not function as a hazard on the job. Moreover, wearers of N-95 masks on a voluntary basis will not need a medical evaluation of the mask or a fit test, as they would for obligatory mask use.

The Proper Way To Put on and Take off a N-95 Mask

While you may think that putting on or taking off an N-95 mask would be common sense, the truth is that there are certain parameters that one should follow to ensure the proper fit and to avoid the risk of contamination. 

When putting on an N-95 mask, the wearer should first inspect the mask for any imperfections. Do not wear a mask that is impaired in any way.

Next, the wearer should place the respirator over his or her face, ensuring that the first strap fits snugly behind the head and beneath the ears, and that the second strap fits over the head and above the ears.

Note that the loops are not to be worn over the ears, as is often the case with general use surgical masks. Never criss-cross the straps. 

Once the wearer has the masks placed, he or she is going to want to check the seal. To do this, the wearer should exhale while placing both hands in front of their mask. If the wearer can feel the air of his or her own breath, the mask is not properly sealed. 

To fix this, the wearer may adjust the metal piece, attempt to adjust the overall placement of the mask, try another mask or get fit tested. In any event, ensuring a suitable fit is imperative for proper N-95 function.

When removing the respirator, NEVER touch the front of the piece. Simply remove the bottom strap, by pulling it over your head, and then the top strap. By touching the front of the N-95 mask after you’ve worn it, you are increasing your risk for exposure.

Crucial Considerations When Wearing an N-95 Mask

Consider the following before attempting to wear an N-95 mask in a potentially threatening situation:

  • Duration of use – Do not use an N-95 mask for more than 8-12 hours. 
  • Taking breaks- You may need to take a break from wearing the mask if you’ve had one on for an extended period of time, or are feeling dizzy, nauseous or ill.
  • Pre-existing conditions- If you have a pre-existing condition that may affect your use of an N-95 mask, including heart or lung conditions, you’ll want to ask a doctor before use.
  • The cleanliness of the mask- Never use a mask that isn’t clean or is badly worn. Do not use the respirator if it gets wet.
  • Watch for hair- Both the hair on your head and on your face can impede the effectiveness of an N-95 mask if it causes leakage through the seal. Ensure that your hair does not come in the way of your safety.
  • Chemical contaminants in the air- Remember, the N-95 mask was not designed to protect you from chemical gasses and vapors. Therefore, you should avoid these toxins when wearing this sort of mask.
  • Alterations in the mask- Though you may be able to “rig” the mask to ensure a better fit, the truth is that doing so may compromise the effectiveness of the mask, itself. To avoid this, do not make any alterations to your mask.
  • Hats and other accessories- As with hair, do not let hats and other accessories get in the way of the effectiveness of your mask. 

All in all, when it comes to your health and safety, the proper usage of an N-95 mask is key. By following the aforementioned guidelines, you can ensure that you are protecting yourself, and those around you, from the spread of harmful viruses and illnesses.